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20.12.2017 Feature Article

Merck Goes To Ghana: How Would The Pharmaceutical Giant’s Vaccine Plant Help Its People?

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‘A healthy nation is a wealthy nation,’ they say. But not many nations have been fortunate or have access to good health facilities which would in turn stimulate them to become wealthy. Indeed, that life line seems to be a mirage for continental Africa and most nations across the world.

West Africa nation Ghana could be lucky to have a major vaccine manufacturing plant yet-to-be-sited in that part of the region. And it will be first in the Sub-Saharan Africa, if the renowned German pharmaceutical company Merck, follows through its plan --based on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with its counterparts in Ghana.

The proposed plant will include diverse range of products in the medium to long term. Key aspects of the MoU comprise basic design, facility construction and equipment supply installation, tech transfer, validation support, training as well as qualification support

.Last week KGaA and Ridge Management Solutions (also trading as RMS innovativ) signed the MoU opening the opportunity for Ghana to become the first country in the sub region to have what the officials called a ‘dedicated human vaccine manufacturing factory’.

Merck, represented by the company’s Head of Africa Strategic Relations, Fritz Sacher (Germany) and Ridge Management Solutions led by Andrew Clocanas, Chairman of the company, initialed the deal that will see a major vaccine manufacturing plant built in Ghana.

Ghana’s vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, who witnessed the signing of the MoU at the Flagstaff House lauded fruitful Ghana and Germany bilateral engagements which has resulted in several areas of support for Ghana, one of which, will be the construction of a vaccine producing company. He described the-yet-to-be-built plant ‘as one of its kind in West Africa’.

A feasibility study is supposed to be done in the beginning of next year --2018. And after a positive outcome, a contract is expected to be signed over the realisation of the project within the next five years and a volume of €25 million.

Later at a press briefing the vice president thanked the group for its worthy initiative and assured them of his government’s support for the project. “This project is crucial as it’s not only for Ghana but Africa as whole,” he underscored.

It is understood over the past two years there’d been serious discussions between the two nations.

Why the vaccine plant is important
Health experts believe if the factory, get built Ghana would be able to produce its own vaccine as well as the development of vaccines and would supply its neighbours the products to fight diseases such as malaria, polio, chicken pox to mention but a few.

For example, malaria kills one child every 30 seconds about 3,000 children every day. And a projected 300-600 million people suffer from malaria each year. Reports say an estimated one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with nine out of ten malaria cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Ghana, according to UNICEF Ghana’s Fact Sheet dating back July 2007 about 3.5 million people contract malaria every year and approximately 20,000 children die from malaria every year (25 per cent of the deaths of children under the age of five.

“If even a child survives the consequences from severe malaria such as convulsion or brain dysfunction can hamper long-term development and schooling,” the report said.

Ghana Health Services (GHS) in collaboration with local government authorities and UNICEF over the years have taken pro-growth measures to reduce malaria.

The annual economic burden of malaria is estimated 1-2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in Ghana.

UNICEF factsheets also indicated that more than16 million people have been saved from paralysis. Poliomyelitis also known as polio cases, according to the agency have reduced by over 99 per cent from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 37 reported cases in 2016.

Apart from the above examples, Vaccines offer solution to many other health problems. They help develop immunity without getting sick first. They’re made from the same germs (or parts of them) that causes disease for example polio vaccine is made from polio virus. But the germs in vaccines are either killed or weakened so they won’t make you sick.

Over 300 years ago Merck was established in Darmstadt Germany by the Merck family in 1686 when Jacob Friedrich Merck purchased a drug in Darmstadt. By the 19th century the Merck Company in Darmstadt revolved from a pharmacy to a major pharmaceutical company which pioneered the commercial manufacture of morphine.

Merck operates in Europe, Africa, Asia Oceania and the Americas It has major research and development centres in Darmstadt, Boston Tokyo and Beijing Merck pioneered the commercial manufacture of morphine in the 19th century and for a time held a virtual monopoly on cocaine.

Merck was privately owned until going public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in 1995, and is listed on the DAX index of Germany's top companies. The Merck family still controls a majority 70.3% of the company's shares. The Merck Group includes around 250 companies in 180 countries; the current main parent company of the group, since 1995, is named Merck KgaA , and is itself mainly owned by the former main parent company, E. Merck oHG which now operates as a holding company.

The American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. was established as a subsidiary of Merck in 1891, but was nationalized by the United States in 1917, before being privatized again. It is known as MSD (Merck Sharp and Dohme) outside of North America. The original Merck of Darmstadt holds the rights to the name Merck in all countries except the U.S. and Canada, where it is known as EMD (Emanuel Merck, Darmstadt).

In 2015 Merck adopted a new uniform brand identity for all its subsidiaries, and the company has stressed its intention to protect the brand of "the real Merck" globally and initiated litigation against its former subsidiary over use of the name.

Gordon Offin-Amaniampong
Gordon Offin-Amaniampong, © 2017

The author has 460 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: GordonOffinAmaniampong

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